Religious conservatives often lament they have been on the losing end of recent social trends, and they’re not entirely wrong about that. Same-sex marriage has become legal nationwide. Church attendance is down. About 30 percent of Americans identify as having no religion.
But there are also several ways in which organized religion has been on a political winning streak. Abortion is the most obvious example, and yesterday brought another instance in a different realm: education.
State officials in Oklahoma approved the local Roman Catholic archdiocese’s request to operate a public charter school. It will be the first explicitly religious public school in the U.S. in modern times, experts say. Supporters of the school hope to use it as a test case to take to the Supreme Court and win a clear right for charter schools to offer religious instruction.
Charter schools are public schools, financed by taxpayer dollars, but given the freedom to operate more flexibly than traditional schools. Nationwide, 8 percent of public schools are charter schools. Advocates of religious charter schools argue that church groups should have the same right to manage schools as other organizations.
Opponents argue that religious charter schools erase the separation between church and state by using government funds to support religious instruction. Over time, opponents say, the growth of church-affiliated charter schools could starve traditional schools of funding and lead to increased segregation of children along religious lines. Rachel Laser, the head of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, criticized the Oklahoma decision as “a sea change for American democracy” and promised to file legal action against it.
The Oklahoma board that oversees charter schools voted 3-2 to approve the new school, which will be called St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School. It will focus on students in rural areas. You can read more about the decision in this story by my colleague Sarah Mervosh.
And at the court
Whatever happens with the Oklahoma case, the Supreme Court’s Republican-appointed majority has already expanded the reach and influence of religious groups. “The Supreme Court has over the last few years issued an extraordinary series of decisions expanding the role of religion in public life, sometimes at the expense of other values, like gay rights and access to contraception,” Adam Liptak, who covers the court for The Times, told me.
Between the 1950s and mid-1980s, the court sided with religious interests roughly half the time, an academic study found. Since John Roberts became chief justice in 2005, the share has jumped to more than 80 percent. By some measures, Roberts and the five other current conservative justices appear to be the six most pro-religion justices in the court’s history.
The kinds of cases the court is hearing have changed, too, Adam notes. When Earl Warren was chief justice in the 1950s and 1960s, all of the rulings in favor of religion benefited minority groups or dissenting practitioners. In the Roberts court, the winners tend to be mainstream Christians.
In cases over the past several years, the court has ruled that:
A high school football coach has a constitutional right to pray at the 50-yard line after his team’s games.
Employment discrimination laws do not apply to teachers at church-run schools whose duties include religious instruction.
A Catholic social services agency in Philadelphia can defy city rules and refuse to work with same-sex couples who apply to care for foster children.
Employers can deny contraception coverage to female workers on religious grounds.
Financial-aid programs and other government benefits for private schools cannot exclude religious schools.
In coming weeks, as the court’s current term winds down, the justices are expected to rule on two more religion cases.
One considers whether a website designer can refuse to work with same-sex couples on the grounds that forcing her to celebrate same-sex marriages would violate her free-speech rights. The justices’ comments during oral arguments suggested they were likely to side with the designer, a decision that would effectively prioritize religious rights and free speech over L.G.B.T.Q. equality. It would also suggest that L.G.B.T.Q. rights were more vulnerable than some other forms of civil rights.
In the second case, the Supreme Court seems similarly poised to rule for religion, although the oral argument suggested that the ruling might be narrow. In that case, a postal worker has asked for the right not to work on Sunday — his Sabbath — without losing his job.
For more: Adam Liptak explained the academic research about the court’s new pro-religion stance in this column.
THE LATEST NEWS
War in Ukraine
A dam in southern Ukraine was destroyed, raising concerns about the safety of a nuclear power plant. Water is rushing toward communities downstream.
Ukraine said Russia blew up the dam. Here’s what we know.
The disaster comes a day after Ukraine started heavy strikes on the eastern front lines, which may signal the beginning of Kyiv’s counteroffensive.
Ukrainian troops are wearing patches featuring Nazi symbols, which could fuel Russian propaganda. Soldiers say they are emblems of national pride, not Nazism.
Mike Pence entered the Republican presidential primary in a long-shot bid against Donald Trump.
Robert Kennedy Jr., who is running as a Democrat, promoted misinformation in a Twitter conversation with Elon Musk. His poll numbers are surprisingly high.
Cornel West, a progressive activist and professor, announced a third-party run for president.
A second private plane dropped off about 20 Latin American migrants in Sacramento. California’s governor blamed Ron DeSantis for the first flight.
Trump’s lawyers met with the special counsel investigating the Mar-a-Lago documents case. The inquiry may be close to ending.
A man on death row will be executed today, Missouri’s governor announced. Several jurors said they were mistaken in voting for the death penalty.
Political polarization is leading to gridlock in state legislatures like Oregon’s.
U.S. regulators accused Binance, the world’s largest crypto exchange, of mishandling customer funds and lying to investors.
Apple announced new high-tech goggles that blend the real and virtual worlds — and cost $3,500. Testing the goggles made a Wall Street Journal columnist nauseous.
The S&P 500 has risen almost 20 percent from a low point last fall.
A major Hollywood actors’ union voted to authorize a strike. Like the writers striking, the actors want higher wages and are worried about A.I.
Chris Licht, CNN’s chief executive, called employees to apologize after a damaging profile caused internal chaos.
Other Big Stories
Prince Harry is in court today to testify in a phone hacking case against the British tabloids. The trial could reveal embarrassing details about him.
Flooding in Haiti killed at least 42 people and displaced thousands.
The N.Y.P.D. is still stopping people unlawfully — almost all of them people of color — a report found.
Robert Hanssen, an F.B.I. agent who worked as a Russian spy for decades, died in prison at 79.
Airline mergers between big companies, like the one planned between JetBlue and Spirit, are making airline travel more miserable, Bill Saporito writes.
Here are columns by Paul Krugman on Ukraine’s counteroffensive and Michelle Goldberg on anti-social-justice politics.
Birding mystery: What happened to this flashy falcon?
“The Compassion Guy”: He devoted his life to kindness. His killer showed none.
Close cousin: An ancient species used sophisticated rituals like burying the dead in caves.
Shampoo: Is it bad to wash your hair every day?
MacBooks and headsets: See all the new products Apple announced yesterday.
Advice from Wirecutter: Get rid of your old electronics safely.
Lives Lived: Andrew Bellucci was a chef in New York City who achieved fame for his pizza. Then he lost his job and reputation when an old crime caught up with him. He died at 59.
Canvas of clay: The French Open courts tell the story of each match. See more images from The Times.
Las Vegas inches closer: The Golden Knights beat the Florida Panthers 7-2 in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final, The Athletic reports.
On the move? Kyrie Irving has asked LeBron James to join the Dallas Mavericks, according to The Athletic.
ARTS AND IDEAS
Why they act
What draws an actor to the stage? The Times spoke with three dozen Tony-nominated performers about their passion for the profession. “An actor gets to explore all the human desire that is out there,” Wendell Pierce, star of “Death of a Salesman,” said. Read more of their quotes, with portraits by the photographer Thea Traff.
PLAY, WATCH, EAT
What to Cook
Make kale and walnut pasta.
What to Read
The historian Martha Hodes recounts being held hostage on an airplane in 1970.
Now Time to Play
Here are Spelling Bee and the Bee Buddy, which helps you find remaining words.
And here are today’s Mini Crossword, Wordle and Sudoku.
Thanks for spending part of your morning with The Times. See you tomorrow. — David
P.S. Elena Shao, a climate fellow, is joining The Times’s graphics department as an editor.
Here’s today’s front page.
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David Leonhardt writes The Morning, The Times’s flagship daily newsletter. He has previously been an Op-Ed columnist, Washington bureau chief, co-host of “The Argument” podcast, founding editor of The Upshot section and a staff writer for The Times Magazine. In 2011, he received the Pulitzer Prize for commentary. @DLeonhardt • Facebook
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